Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021

Axed Christmas work parties hurting already struggling hospitality sector

Hospitality venues are being served a fresh Covid-19 blow as some employers move to cancel or tone down festive work parties amid lingering Covid-19 concern and budget constraints.

A survey from the Restaurant Association shows Christmas function bookings are down on normal levels and about a third of venues are experiencing Christmas party cancellations.

One venue included in the survey said it was 70 per cent down on large functions, while others signalled that both corporate and general bookings were down.

“The mood is cautious and our impression is that being show-y with wine and food is not in good taste in the current climate,” a hospitality operator noted.

Another said there were less big corporate events booked but it instead had a lot of restaurant bookings for smaller corporate groups. “Looks like they are toning down spending on Christmas parties,” the operator said.

Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association, said she was surprised that it appeared some corporate employers were cancelling Christmas parties.

“While some people are taking advantage of the freedom that we now have, others are choosing to take a more measured approach,” Bidois said.

Meanwhile, venues and operators are also struggling to find staff and fill vacant roles.

“We want people to go out and celebrate their Christmas within the restaurants and we also want people to come in and work for us as well.”

Hospitality NZ chief executive Julie White said fewer work Christmas parties, particularly in Auckland, could be put down to Covid-19 community cases scares in recent weeks — a risk employers did not want to take.

“What’s happening is the uncertainty of Covid has impacted companies’ desire to hold Christmas parties. The uncertainty of going to go into another lockdown, also off the back of having to make hard decisions and lay people off.

“[Employers] don’t want to be perceived to be wasting money at the peril of having to lay people off. While we’re faring better than we thought, there is still economic impact and companies are feeling that and are continuing with that theme of not having parties.”

White said cancelled Christmas parties were “another casualty” for the industry at the busiest time of the year.

She fears the ramifications could mean some businesses do not make it through to the New Year or past the first quarter of 2021. “I’m concerned that if our industry doesn’t make the money now from companies not having these larger Christmas parties that they won’t be able to carry through. For some this might be all too much.”

Hospitality operators were living with a “cloud over their heads” as the threat of a Covid-19 resurgence lingers, particularly operators based in Auckland CBD, she said.

Although there were no longer Covid-19 alert level rules that operators were required to follow, Bidois said businesses were proactively looking at ways to minimise risks and make sure patrons were safe.

Some continued to follow alert level rules, while others were implementing their own policies, including taking it upon themselves to implement random testing among their workforce as precautionary measures, she said.

“There’s no reason for people to be weary because there are some really good processes that are in place within our industry.”

Rebecca Smidt, owner of Auckland restaurant Cazador, said she had noticed Christmas corporate bookings had reduced in size this year, with individual teams opting to get together instead of whole departments or offices.

“The general corporate behaviour we are noticing this year is quite different. We’re not receiving advanced bookings at the pace that we used to, and we’re not seeing the kinds of numbers either,” Smidt told the Herald.

“We’re seeing at shorter notice smaller reservations, which is different. The feeling I have from managing the bookings is that this is not the year for extravagance.

“We do have a few book-outs this year, but it’s definitely down on last year. However, those tables of 8, 10, 12 have increased.”

Cazador lost a flurry of bookings following the Covid-19 Auckland community case scare and following the CBD one-day work from home order two weeks ago.

Smidt said bookings patterns had been unpredictable this year.

“Corporate entertainment definitely reflects the wider sentiment of how people are doing and I think [right now] it shows that there’s a cautiousness out there. It hasn’t stopped, but it has changed.”

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